Portland Trail Blazers (23-32) at Utah Jazz (34-22)
Feb. 15, 2017, 6:00 PST
Watch: KGW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Al-Farouq Aminu (doubtful), Evan Turner (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Jazz injuries: Rodney Hood (out)
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk
The Trail Blazers head to Salt Lake City to take on the Jazz for the first time since the start of the 2016-17 season. Expectations have changed for each team, but a recent run of poor play has plagued both organizations. This will be the final game before the All-Star break, and it could serve as Jusuf Nurkic’s Blazers debut.
After a four-year playoff drought, coach Quin Snyder has this Jazz team primed for a postseason return. Home court advantage is well within Utah’s grasp, but a three-game losing streak has allowed the Clippers to sneak past them in the standings.
Utah’s success is built around its balanced roster and excellent defense. Gordon Hayward leads the pack for the Jazz, and tonight’s contest against Portland will be his final tune-up before heading to New Orleans to take his place alongside the rest of the Western Conference All-Stars.
Worthy of his own All-Star nod, Rudy Gobert is the catalyst behind Utah’s stout defense. The Jazz own the eighth-stingiest defense when it comes to allowing points in the paint, which is especially bad news for a Blazers squad that is undergoing major changes at the center position.
As if Mason Plumlee’s departure weren’t enough, coach Terry Stotts now has to compensate for an injured Al-Farouq Aminu. With Nurkic still adapting to his new surroundings, Noah Vonleh and Meyers Leonard will likely see increased minutes for the second straight outing. The struggling duo combined for three points and 11 total fouls in 38 minutes as the Blazers lost to the Hawks Monday, which isn’t encouraging heading into this game against the Jazz.
It wasn’t all bad news amongst the big men on Monday night, as Ed Davis recaptured some his energy from last season. The former Tar Heel recorded a solid double-double off the bench against the Hawks. Another strong performance from Davis could result in added minutes in a retooled frontcourt rotation.
Along with Davis, Maurice Harkless was able to capitalize on an increased workload against Atlanta. Missing his own double-double by a single rebound, Harkless proved he was still capable of being Portland’s third-best offensive threat. His biggest test will likely come on the defensive end in this one, as Rodney Hood’s injury has increased Joe Johnson’s workload for the Jazz. Johnson torched the Blazers at the start of the season, racking up 29 points while only missing four of his shots from the field.
With only one win in the last five, tonight’s game might be more focused on how the Blazers adapt to life without Plumlee, and less on Portland’s uphill battle to reclaim the eighth seed from Denver. Sitting only two games behind the Nuggets, a win tonight would send the Blazers into the All-Star break with some momentum.